Dear Lifehacker, I'm terrible with headphones. I always break them after a few months or lose them entirely. The cables snap, the plastic around the ears crack, or one of the ears will stop working. I think I'm cursed, and I don't want to invest in a nice pair because I'm scared I'll break them! What should I do? Sincerely, Headphone Wrecker
Dear Headphone Wrecker,
I used to be like you — always buying super-cheap headphones and earbuds because you knew you will inevitably lose them. That's not a huge problem if you buy good cheap headphones, such as the Koss PortaPros, one of our favourite headphones. But if you want better quality from your music, you're going to have to spend more, and even a $20 investment should last you as long as possible. Here are some ways to protect your headphones, keep them in good condition and stop losing them on the commute home.
Learn to Coil Your Headphone Cables So They Don't Break
I used to go through earbuds frequently too. Every few months, one of the ears would stop working or start crackling. It turns out that I had been routinely damaging the audio cable or the connection to the driver inside the headphones because I wasn't coilding them properly after use.
We have more than a few methods on coiling your headphone cables without damaging your cables in the process (along with videos so you can see how it's done). Part of it depends on you though. Remember, the tighter you coil them, the more chance they have of breaking, so don't go overboard. My issue was that I caught myself wrapping them too tightly around my phone or my media player, and then letting the earbuds or headphones dangle, putting undue stress on the connection between the driver and the cable. Once you stop coiling them that way, you'll instantly get more life from your headphones.
Reinforce Your Headphones with Heat-Shrink Tubing
If the problem you run into with your headphones or earbuds is that the cables keep fraying all the way through, you may be able to shore up your cables with a little Sugru or heat-shrink tubing. Both accomplish similar goals: adding a little protective material around some of the most flexible parts of your headphones where there's more likely to be stress and bending. Even if your problem is cracking plastic around the earcups of your on or over-ear headphones, a little Sugru (or a squirt of Plasti-Dip) will fix you right up.
We've shown you how to repair earbuds with Sugru before, and it works like a charm. Sugru can also help you customise the fit of your earbuds so they're more comfortable to wear. If you prefer heat-shrink tubing, we have a guide for that too.
Get Headphones with Removable Cables, or Hack Your Own
If you're the DIY type, you can hack a good pair of headphones so they have audio cables you can unplug when the headphones aren't in use. Alternatively, the solution for you might be to buy headphones where the audio cable can be easily disconnected and coiled away from the headphones themselves. If your problem is that you frequently damage the headphones themselves, this may not help, but the ability to swap out audio cables whenever one stops working is a nice bonus.
Store Your Headphones Properly
This should go without saying, but you should stop tossing your headphones into the bottom of your bag or coiling up your earbuds and shoving them into a pocket. Get a headphone case for your earbuds or your full-size headphones. A good one will protect your investment, even if you have cheap headphones, and will also make sure you don't lose them — assuming you make it a habit of putting your headphones in their case when you're finished using them.
Similarly, you can kill two birds with one stone with a simple binder clip. Not only can you use the binder clip to attach your headphones to your shirt, bag, or pocket, but you can also use it to properly wrap your cables for easy storage.
Stop Buying Disposable Headphones
Now, "cheap" is not the same as "disposable" here, but there is a certain "you get what you pay for" element with headphones. If you're buying throwaway headphones, you're not going to get build quality that's designed or expected to last for a long time. You can take good care of your headphones, but that will only prolong the life of your headphones for so long. We have some great headphone suggestions and in-ear recommendations, most of which are budget-friendly, offer great sound and have sturdy, long-lasting build quality. You don't have to spend a lot of money to get long-lasting headphones, but you do need to make sure build quality is one of the things you look for when you shop around.
Hopefully these tips will help you buy better headphones or repair the ones you have. I know what it's like to spend $30-$40 repeatedly every couple of months on what you hope are headphones that will last a long time, only to be disappointed when they start acting up after regular use. You're not cursed, we promise!
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